Kansas Football has been hard at work for the past several weeks preparing for the 2014 season. There is a lot of pessimism around KU football, most of it deserved. Charlie Weis is 4-20 as the head man at KU. He’s had two years to recruit and rebuild after the he-who-shall-not-be-named debacle. Weis says that this is the fastest and most talented team he’s had in Lawrence. Statements like that need to be taken with a grain of salt, however. After all, we all know what he started with.
Spring practices will conclude Saturday afternoon, April 12, at 1 PM in Memorial Stadium with the annual Spring Game. Here’s what to look for.
The spring game will be in an actual game format, with four 15-minute quarters with a running clock, except for the last two minutes of each half. Weis has said he has a plan to keep the game competitive, but we won’t see what it is until Saturday.
The game will be full contact. No one will be wearing a red jersey except Tony Pierson. By all accounts, he has had a great spring. He just tweaked a hamstring in practice this past week, and coaches don’t want to lose him for a season via a freak injury in the last practice of the spring. Anyway, QBs will be getting hit and taking sacks, so we’ll get to see them "under fire" – especially the second team QB, I would imagine.
Kansas returns 31 of 44 players from last year’s two-deep, so a lot of these guys will have Big 12 experience.
Offense is the primary source of concern for KU football fans coming into 2014. The Kansas offense has done nothing under Weis the last two years, which led to Head Coach Charlie Weis firing Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis. John Reagan has come back to KU and will helm the offense with minimal input from Weis. Hopefully the days of having vastly different offensive gameplans from week to week are over.
Offensive Coordinator John Reagan has been instructed to "not hold back" on offense during the spring game. So, we should get a pretty decent idea of what the actual KU offense will look like this coming fall. I’m sure they won’t be going very deep into the playbook, but they also won’t be running a "vanilla" offense.
Rumor mill has it that Jake Heaps is the favorite to win the starting QB job, but that he is pretty much in a dead heat with Montell Cozart. According to Weis, the competition is "too close to call." Weis has been pretty coy lately when it comes to his QBs, but my intuition via reading some of his quotes is that Jake Heaps will win the job. TJ Millweard is a solid third string at this point.
Once again, Kansas has a full stable of options at the running back position. Brandon Bourbon is the favorite for first string carries, with Darrian Miller the primary backup. KU also has Taylor Cox available, and JUCO All-American TJ Mann and four-star recruit Traevon Wrench will be in camp in the fall.
As for WR, the top three performers this spring have been Nick Harwell, Rodriguez Coleman, and Tony Pierson. Their backups are Tre Parmalee, Justin McCay, and Andrew Turzilli. I think it’s fair to expect a lot more production from the WR position for several reasons, not the least of which is the new offensive coordinator. If Tony Pierson stays healthy (perhaps a big "if"), KU receivers might actually be a bright sport on offense this fall.
The offensive line will be the primary factor as to whether or not KU can move the ball on offense. Obviously, the line’s performance affects the QB, which in turn affects the receivers and the RBs. The current projected starters, from left to right, are: Zach Fondal, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Joe Gibson, Mike Smithburg, Damon Martin. Pat Lewandowski is pushing for time at LT, and Keyon Haughton is pushing for time at C. Two highly regarded recruits, Apa Visinia and Jacob Bragg, will be here in the fall and may push to get on the two-deep.
The defense should be a bright spot this fall. They were able to keep Kansas in several games last year despite no help from the offense. The base defense looks like a 3-3-5, with three down linemen, two linebackers, the "buck", three CBs, and two safeties. This 3-3-5 could easily morph into a 4-2-5 depending on how the "buck" lines up.
KU only lost five players from last year’s team off the defensive two-deep. Experience, plus several highly anticipated recruits, should equal even more production from this year’s squad.
Andrew Bolton, Kevin Short, and Marcus Jenkins-Moore are finally healthy and eligible. Defensive line is where the concern should be directed. Ty McKinney is gone from the team, and no reason has been given. KU has Keon Stowers and Tedarian Johnson left, and is waiting on six defensive lineman recruits to show up this fall. However, the secondary and linebackers should be well above average. Look for Ben Heeney to get some national love this fall if he stays healthy. Incoming LB recruit Kyron Watson could make his way onto the two deep as well to help Schyler Myles back up Heeney and Jake Love.
Tre Parmalee looks like he will start the season as the primary KR/PR. Other players who have taken reps there this spring are Isaiah Johnson, Nick Harwell, and Kevin Short.
As for kickers, I have no idea what to expect on Saturday. Trevor Pardula, Eric Kahn, and Matthew Wyman are all in camp and competing for kicking and punting duties.
As in all spring games, look for the first string to dominate the second string. Weis says there will be a "twist" in the second half and that players will have incentive to "win" the game. It’s notoriously difficult to get a good read on teams or even players during spring games (looking at you, Christian Matthews). It doesn’t look like it will be a total farce like K-State’s spring games, where the QB goes 45-50 for 535 yards and 9 TDs. So, we’ll do the best we can to draw some conclusions, but we won’t really know anything until about mid-August – and maybe not even then. But at least when last August rolls around, we’ll have a depth chart to go off of.
Weis has hinted at (without specifically saying) that a realistic goal this season is six wins. He has said things similar to "you have to be a winning program and then you can shoot for the moon." Obviously, your goal is to win every game, but for most programs, that’s just not feasible. If six wins is indeed one of the team’s goals this year, I think that’s as good a place as any to start.
Activities surrounding the game are mostly kid related, so if you have some younglings and no plans on Saturday, come on out. The Hy-Vee Hawk Zone will be set up; they have various activities such as face painting and bouncy castles. There will be an Easter egg hunt at 11:30 as well.
Parking is free. Gates to the stadium open at noon. The first few fans through the gates will receive a free mini football while supplies last. The entire stadium will be open seating. The baseball team will host TCU over at Hoglund Ballpark at 3 PM if anyone wants to catch a baseball game while they’re in town.
The game will be televised live on the Jayhawk Television Network in the state of Kansas and the Kansas City metro area and nationally on ESPN3. Additionally, the game will be broadcast live across the state of Kansas on the Jayhawk Radio Network, with an audio stream also available to subscribers on the Jayhawk Digital Passport at KUAthletics.com.
Whatever you do, expect the Jayhawk football team to pick up a win on Saturday!
Feel free to discuss any of the following questions in the comments section:
How good will Nick Harwell be?
Will it be RB by committee or will someone emerge? Who steps up at RB? Indications are Bourbon and Miller are the top 2 candidates.
Weis says a realistic goal is 6 wins. Is that realistic?
Defensive players are on record as saying they want to be "the best defense in the Big 12." Is that realistic?
How much will KU improve on offense?
Will Andrew Bolton, Kevin Short, and Marcus Jenkins-Moore become difference makers on defense?
Will Jimmay Mundine be able to hang onto passes?
Can the Jayhawks snap the current 27-game road losing streak? Six chances this year: @ Duke, @ WVU, @ TTech, @ Baylor, @ Oklahoma, @ KSU